college football

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Coronavirus Impact: How schools are handling football recruiting

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USA Today

Coronavirus Impact: How schools are handling football recruiting

While the coronavirus pandemic has shut down nearly everything sports related, college football recruiting hasn't stopped despite the current NCAA Dead Period, which is currently in place until April 15.

The Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level was actually in a recruiting quiet period up until March 13 when the NCAA decided to switch back to the dead period in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The NCAA Dead Period then eliminated any on-campus or off-campus in-person contact with prospective student-athletes.

So why is football recruiting still ongoing despite being in an NCAA mandated dead period? 

The NCAA Dead Period does permit phone calls and electronic communication between coaches and eligible recruits.  In fact, you could argue that recruiting has seen a bigger boost over the past few weeks with several schools extending more college scholarship offers at this early point of the recruiting calendar.

Why? 

I was able to speak with a dozen different college coaches over the past weekend regarding the impact of the coronavirus. Nearly every college coach I spoke with agreed that the upcoming Spring Evaluation Period, which is set by the NCAA to start on April 15 and end on May 31, will be eliminated by the NCAA because of the ongoing pandemic. The Spring Evaluation Period allows for colleges to have in school evaluation visits along with being allowed to host recruits for both unofficial and official visits. 

With the possibilities of the NCAA eliminating the Spring Evaluation Period, college coaches will be losing an important contact period for seeing potential recruits work out in person and it also gives high school players one less chance to be seen in person by college coaches. 

Without the very real possibility of not having any in-person evaluations this spring, many college coaches have spent this recruiting dead period more focused on its scouting and film study. Several colleges are now extending more early scholarship offers during this dead period than ever before, hoping to at least attract interest and eventually a verbal commitment from the players at the top of its recruiting board. These early offers are also coming from several different levels of college football, including several of the State of Illinois FCS level programs (Illinois State/SIU/EIU/WIU) who have been very active over the past few weeks. 

The summer NCAA Football Quiet Period, which is set to begin on June 1, is one of the busiest times of the year. The summer one day camp circuit features a handful of weeks of on-campus college football camps and is also in potential jeopardy according to the coaches I spoke with.

Those same coaches said that the college one day camps each year draw hundreds of kids in from all over the Midwest, and in some cases draw kids and parents traveling from across the country. The severity of the coronavirus and its severity is much different in spots all over the country, and it will take some time before it truly begins to loosen its grip across the country. The timing of the summer quiet period could potentially be pushed back, but again, that begins to threaten the college football schedules including when schools are allowed to assemble and have team practice. 

So in the meantime? College football recruiting — along with the rest of the world — will continue to operate in uncharted waters as many sit at home and wait for this pandemic to wind down.